We’ve talked at length on this site, over the past several years, about the coordinated campaign to dismantle public education in the United States. Sadly, Michigan is often at the forefront of this national conservative movement. Images of pregnant teenage girls being arrested as they try to keep their schools from closing and boys picketing outside of their struggling schools, demanding an education have become commonplace, as once vibrant neighborhood schools are being forced to close, and those that remain transition from places of learning to places where children who can’t afford private education are essentially warehoused during the daylight hours, filling out worksheets in overcrowded classrooms, as massively overworked teachers are kept busy attending to the inevitable discipline problems that arise. Today, however, the story that caught my attention wasn’t from Michigan. It’s from Philadelphia… Following is a clip from the Philadelphia City Paper.
Philadelphia public schools are on the operating table, reeling from a knockout blow of heavy state budget cuts. It was too much to bear after decades of underfunding and mismanagement at the hands of shortsighted Philadelphians and mean-spirited politicians in Harrisburg.
So the District is today announcing that it’s going to call it quits. Its organs will be harvested, in search of a relatively vital host.
“Philadelphia public schools is not the School District,” Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen told a handful of reporters at yesterday’s press conference laying out the five-year plan proposed to the School Reform Commission. “There’s a redefinition, and we’ll get to that later.”
He got to it: talk about “modernization,” “right-sizing,” “entrepreneurialism” and “competition.”
Forty schools would close next year, and six additional schools would be closed every year thereafter until 2017. Closing just eight schools this year prompted an uproar.
Anyhow, the remaining schools would get chopped up into “achievement networks” where public or private groups compete to manage about 25 schools, and the central office would be chopped down to a skeleton crew of about 200. District HQ has already eliminated about half of the 1,100-plus positions that existed in 2010.
This is all aimed at closing a $218 million deficit for the coming year, part of a $1.1 billion cumulative deficit by 2017. Charter schools will teach an estimated 40 percent of students by 2017…
But, it’s imperative, we’re told, that the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy remain in place. Otherwise, we might jeopardize our recovery, and the future of America, right?
I don’t want to go off on a conspiratorial tangent, but I think it’s worth considering that none of this is an accident. It’s quite possible, I think, that the Bush tax cuts, which were extended under the Obama administration, were never solely about allowing those with the most power in America to keep an unprecedented amount of their accumulated wealth. I think an argument could be made that these tax cuts were more about, in the words of conservative operative Grover Norquist, “starving” the U.S. government to the point that social programs, like public education, would be forced to collapse. Norquist, as you’ll recall, was quoted once as saying he wanted to shrink government, “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” (I also like this quote, “My ideal citizen is the self-employed, homeschooling, IRA-owning guy with a concealed-carry permit. Because that person doesn’t need the goddamn government for anything,” but we’ll have to save that for another day.) And, I think that’s what we’re seeing play out right now in Philadelphia. We’re standing by, passively watching, as public education being drowned in the bathtub.
While we’re on the subject of Philadelphia’s public schools, I also wanted to pass along the following clip from the Black Agenda Report, which is one of the few news sources I could find online today covering this story. (Good Morning America, while it didn’t cover this story, had a great segment on a cow that visited a McDonald’s drive-through. They also had an incredibly insightful piece on a cat that’s so cute that people wonder if it’s animatronic.) Here’s the clip, in which the author speculates as to why black civil rights leaders seem to be silent on the wholesale dismantling of public education in Philadelphia.
…The black political class is utterly silent and deeply complicit. Even local pols and notables who lament the injustice of local austerity avoid mentioning the ongoing wars and bailouts which make these things “necessary.” A string of black mayors have overseen the decimation of Philly schools. Al Sharpton, Ben Jealous and other traditional “civil rights leaders” can always be counted on to rise up indignant when some racist clown makes an inappropriate remark about the pretty black First Lady and her children.
But they won’t grab the mic for ordinary black children. They won’t start and won’t engage the public in a conversation about saving public education. It’s not because they don’t care. It’s because they care very much about their funding, which comes from Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation, from Wal-mart and the Walton Family Foundation, from the corporations that run charter charter schools and produce standardized tests.
To name just one payment to one figure, Rev. Al Sharpton took a half million dollar “loan” from charter school advocates in New York City, after which he went on tour with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Newt Gingrich extolling the virtues of standardized testing, charter schools and educational privatization. Bill Gates delivered the keynote speech at the latest gathering of the National Urban League. And the nation’s two big teachers’ unions, NEA and AFT have already endorsed Barack Obama’s re-election, and will funnel him gobs of union dues as campaign contributions, despite his corporate-inspired “Race To The Top” program which awards federal education funds in proportion to how many teachers are fired and replaced by inexperienced temps, how many schools are shut down, and how many charter schools exempt from meaningful public oversight are established and granted public funds…
So, we’ll all stand by and watch this happen. We’ll all watch as teaching ceases to be profession that can support a family, a generation of kids loses the chance at a better life that education provides, and for-profit companies, who are accountable only to their shareholders, swoop in to extract what little money there is left. It may not be registering in your brain yet, but we’re watching the country that our ancestors gave their lives for be dragged to the bathtub and killed. And we’re all complicit.